In Search of Safe Space

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 19th, 2010 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

The past three months have been brutal. In mid-August, I sustained a life-altering auditory injury following an explosive crash in my building. Maintenance was doing demolition in the apartment below mine and hadn’t bothered telling me about it. The construction noises continued for two weeks after – effectively kicking me out of my home when I most needed a safe and quiet space for healing.

Once I’d sustained this injury, everything was hurting my ears. Imagine having a knee injury, then walking through a field of mallets hitting that same knee over and over and over again. That’s what it’s been like: cars, dishes, voices, doors, you name it, have been exacerbating the pain in my ears – setting off an episode of nerve pain at times horrific and lasting as long as two days.

Last week, I moved for the second time in two months. I thought I’d finally found a safe space for healing. And I started feeling like me again. That is, until the door was replaced in the unit downstairs and across from me, and all that banging racket began.

For the past few days, I’ve been negotiating with the management about disability accommodation – namely, please give me a heads-up before there’s any banging noise going on in the little clump of units where I live. That way, I can work my schedule around the repair, making sure I’m out of the house when it happens. I’ve been told I need a doctor’s note verifying that I have a disability necessitating this heads-up, before this accommodation can be made.

Mind you, I’m grateful for any accommodation, period. And on the face of it, this request is perfectly reasonable — bureaucracy, paperwork, codes, whatever. They need that stamp of approval. I get it.

But the request comes despite the fact that for the past two months, I’ve been circling around here, looking and looking for a unit that would be super-duper quiet, because of my auditory injury. And I”ve frequently had to ask apartment complex representatives to lower their voices, despite the fact that they were speaking in perfectly reasonable tones, becuase I was getting shots of nerve pain in my ears. I think it’s pretty obvious I have this condition.

That whole must-have-note-from-doctor thing is big issue. Why does our society rely so heavily on outside “authorities” to validate what someone is honest-to-goodness experiencing in her body? Considering how misunderstood pain is, and considering how doctors regularly misdiagnose or altogether dismiss pain conditions, the reliance on medical testimonial means chronic pain patients may not get the validation, and therefore accommodation, they need. But let’s put this larger issue to the side for a minute.

Until that note is forthcoming, I’m left vulnerable to attack. On my ears. Because that’s exactly what any kind of banging is. And that’s what people don’t seem to understand.

I survived the day of the new door installation. Fortunately, the banging began while I was in the back room of my apartment. So I continued hiding out in that corner, wearing both earplugs and heavy-duty earphones. But after that door was repaired, there was still a door hanging out on the balcony between my unit and that of my neighbor’s across the way. It took 24 hours for me to get back any information about what was going on with that door. Turned out they were planning to repair the door of the neighbor right across from me as well.

During the time that I didn’t know what was going on, I was super anxious, preparing for an auditory assault that might come at any time. And as I wait for my doctor’s note, not knowing if or when there will be more work in my little clump of units, I’m still very anxious — which is having all kinds of effects on my ability to function and to heal.

All I want is a little information so that I can live my life with some semblance of normalcy. I really have no interest in inconveniencing anybody. I’d love, love, love to hibernate in my little nest and leave the rest of the world alone. But the problem is, sound travels. Into my ears. And loud sound fucks me up. I can’t wait for the banging to begin, because once it’s begun, it’s already too late. If I’m close enough to the sound, the damage can be done in a nanosecond.

And even if I”m far enough away from the sound that it doesn’t reinjure me, I end up stuck. I can’t leave the house, because opening the door will exacerbate my exposure to the noise. But I can’t stay in the house, because I’ll continue to be subjected to the banging.

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few months I’ve ended up crouched in a corner with my hands over my ears, despite the fact that they have earplugs in them. And all this madness is wearing down on me. I’m depleted. I’m frazzled. My body has been in fight-flight mode for three months now. And in order to heal, I need safe space that just doesn’t seem to exist anywhere.


Elana November 20th, 2010

Sending you healing energy…….wishing you well…..
b’vracha, elana

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